Sex, Drugs, Sticks | Memoir

This month’s memoirs are a mix of titles, though the perennial themes of sex and drugs pop up in all of them (sometimes in the same book). Lately I’ve been receiving more memoirs written by women, and I have been making an effort to include at least one in each column. The featured title here is Amber Tozer’s Sober Stick Figure.

DS.5.16.AppiceMemoirAppice, Carmine with Ian Gittins. Stick It! My Life of Sex, Drums, and Rock ‘N’ Roll. Chicago Review. May 2016. 288p. ISBN 9781613735527. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781613735558. MEMOIR
If one of the redeeming virtues of a solid memoir is the confrontation of the past self in order to integrate it with the present self, then this is not a good example of the genre. Appice, best known for his drumming with 1960s band Vanilla Fudge, engages in virtually no self-reflection. Though the author says he is now in a loving and committed relationship, the women whom he and his various bandmates once sexually degraded are belittled again here. Not only does Appice leave unexamined the ways he treated women in the past as objects of pleasure, he attempts to justify his actions by claiming “those were the days” and “boys will be boys.” In this account, Appice’s significant accomplishments as a drummer are minimized by such intimate details of insight into his life and mind. VERDICT This is a disappointing title. If male braggadocio is your thing, this may be for you. Otherwise, stay away, especially if you admire Appice’s musical achievements.

DS.5.16.ByarsMemoirByars, Clay. Will & I. Farrar. Jun. 2016. 192p. ISBN 9780374290283. pap. $14; ebk. ISBN 9780374714833. MEMOIR
When he was 18, the author survived a car crash that left him paralyzed. Though a strongly written and deeply reflective memoir, this title is most engaging when Byars shares the quiet moments of his life rather than the life-transforming accident he suffered. That is because he truly reveals himself in relating these instances. Somehow Byars the “accident victim” is a public self, a construction that helps him survive. Byars the budding writer, forging ahead in a cabin by a lake, is the stuff memoirs are made of. VERDICT This work is mostly successful. The best passages are so beautiful that they will make readers wait impatiently for the author’s next book.

DS.5.16.Memoir.EdisonEdison, Mike. You Are a Complete Disappointment: A Triumphant Memoir of Failed Expectations. Sterling. May 2016. 256p. ISBN 9781454918684. $17.95; ebk. ISBN 9781454919667. MEMOIR
Taking its title from the last words Edison’s father spoke to him before dying, this book guides us on a journey through Edison’s life, highlighting his relationship with his family. In the process the author demonstrates that, though some may not approve of his career choices—he was editor of High Times and a writer for Penthouse Letters—he is highly driven and anything but a failure. Edison’s portrait of his father is at times teeming with anger, but he sees his father for what he was—a man full of self-loathing, who was jealous of his own son’s free and easy career choices. Based on descriptions in this work, the man really was a monster, and Edison creates in him an extremely memorable character. VERDICT Though the family drama is intense, Edison (I Have Fun Everywhere I Go) keeps readers from getting bogged down in all the misery with his very funny and insightful prose.

DS.5.16.Tozer.MemoirTozer, Amber. Sober Stick Figure. Running Pr. Jun. 2016. 272p. illus. ISBN 9780762459728. $24; ebk. ISBN 9780762459742. MEMOIR
Comedian Tozer minces no words in telling her story of 30 years of alcohol addiction, but she does so with her sense of humor intact. Her amateurish stick-figure drawings also add a lot of verve to the book. One wonders if part of their intent is to locate her struggle with addiction in her childhood, having been brought up by an alcoholic father and a mother who ran a bar. Though the last 40 pages or so, which chronicle Tozer’s recovery, get slightly preachy, she acknowledges this and does not apologize, saying that she wants to help others by any means necessary. VERDICT Readers will identify with Tozer’s original voice—and those drawings!—as she tells a fairly typical addiction and recovery story.

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Derek Sanderson About Derek Sanderson

Derek Sanderson is currently Assistant Librarian for Instruction Services at Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh, NY. When not reviewing books or at the library he enjoys spending time with his son, reading, listening to the Grateful Dead, making mix tapes, and watching whichever sports are in season.